Tag Archives: MBA

What is Strategy?

It’s how decisions are made.  



Strategy is not a thing nor is it an event. Annual strategic planning is not strategy. Having a strategic plan is not strategy. Strategy is not linear. Leaders who gather one time a year to develop a strategy is not strategy. Science alone is not strategy. Art alone is not strategy. An officer in charge of strategy is not strategy. Having profit goals is not strategy. Customer focus is not strategy. 

Why start out with what strategy is not

To support a reset. To challenge conventional understanding. Books about performance, execution, implementation and outcomes remain among the most recommended business books. 

Leaders and managers in all types of organizations have fallen into the ‘pressures of results’.  Pressure that publicly traded companies assume on ‘managers’ to perform which equals return a profit to shareholders. The flaw in this focus is that it is not only narrowly defining what success means but it also puts weight on the outputs and not the things that go into creating a growing, high performing organization. (We’ll delve more into this in a future post.)

Strategy is a lot of things but most simply ‘strategy is how decisions are made.’ 

Nothing helped me to distill that simple ‘tweet length’ definition better than the engaging, curious and challenging dialogue with master’s degree students in sustainability. With an open mindset they also reconcile that ‘business as usual’ is not working and success looks differently. That opened my own mind to consider the limitations of a business model that had relegated strategy to a function, person or event. 

No matter how much or how little planning or formalization goes into defining a decision or the decision-making process, is informed by strategy or lack of one. 


The RitzCarlton is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission. We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience.” – Ritzcarlton.com 

In alignment with this mission, Ritz-Carlton has granted every employee with $2000 budget, daily, to use at their discretion to rectify a customer concern. Consider the time when a member guest did not receive a wake-up call at the requested time and missed his flight. The hotel agent receiving this situation was able to mail him and his wife (known as part of the customer profile) an embossed robe shipped to his home with overnight service with a note of apology. 

Ritz-Carlton’s strategy is to ensure that they deliver on their mission through empowering every single employee with decision-making power: a no-questions-asked-budget to rectify any customer issue or to provide service that delights them. This spurs creativity, agency and ownership of the brand which pays greater dividends than the cost of using the budget amounts. 

Whether a barista in a coffee shop or a manager on a manufacturing floor or a teller at a bank or the founder of a start-up, the information an individual uses to make a decision is largely and sometimes exclusively driven by strategy, good or bad. 


Comprehensive definitions of the components of creating strategy include aspects that 


are science based and components that are art based. Military leaders have provided a model of leadership that balances information, tactics and knowledge with deduction,lessons learned, insights and even intuition.

The things that comprise a strategy include the components core to an organization’s reason for being: vision, mission, values and purpose. Strategy is also informed by decision-rules, organizational structure, and most importantly the promise to the customer. (yes, this last one is informed by mission and purpose in a well-founded organization but I’ll share later why I call it out as separate.)

Some questions that inform an understanding of how decisions are made: is the organizational structure hierarchical or traditional in managers having command and sharing information? Are ideas formally asked for or is there a culture of trust with a ‘no fear of failure’ where any idea is something to consider and vet? Are all individuals tied to the mission or customer impact or just a specific customer-facing group? Is the purpose of the organization aligned to the day-to-day work of the organization? Is time dedicated to strategic thinking, as a distinct exercise different from planning or implementation? 


As part of my own learning to teach strategy after years of consulting on strategy, I most serendipitously met Julia Sloan. She is the world’s expert in Learning to Think Strategically and just gifted me the 4th edition copy of her book.  

How we learn to think sets the foundation for how we actually do strategy. And if we are not prepared to learn and grow from that learning, we are limited in our ability to ‘do’ strategy or be strategic. Her research with leaders about the role that thinking plays in doing strategy has informed all that I do. She sets forth a simple triangle. 

Her lectures confirm that there are tensions that connect each aspect of the strategic IMG_20191117_085240.jpgprocess: thinking, planning and implementation. They change all of the time based on circumstances and factors that affect business and organizational interactions. This requires that the manager of strategy be comfortable in such tensions and navigating a changing environment. Using structure to honor the role of thinking by all players, is the ultimate objective of any leader. 


Strategy is dedicated time for thinking. Ensuring the problem is defined correctly before diving into solving. Ensuring ideas are exhausted to best position for innovation. Ensuring trust is established to welcome the identification of the proverbial elephant in the room. 

Strategy is a system. Interdependent parts of art and science each being called upon depending on the situation at hand or the objectives aspired. 

Strategy is supported by all roles having clear expectations and contributing in alignment – aka complimentary or mutually supportive, to the purpose of the organization or it’s reason for existence. 

Strategy is bringing inputs – people, resources, knowledge, information and potential all together in the most essential, thoughtful and consistent manner possible. 

Strategy is realizing (that means subsequent to something) that the inputs you have brought together will respond, creating outputs. These in turn will yield outcomes, good or bad. 

Strategy is most often associated with business practices or large organizations. But any organization of people, for profit or not, incorporated or community organized, either formally or informally evolves from strategy that is strong or strategy that is lacking. 

So after reflecting on both the living of strategy in organizations, the teaching of strategy to business students worried about shifting business for good and my own process of learning, I remain committed to this definition. It invites us to consider the inputs, the complexity of those and that our leadership creates impact, taking time to shift that impact. 

Strategy is how decisions are made.


Dr. Jula Sloan and I at NationSwell East Summit 11/2019

Virtual Learning for a Real World

Last August I entered one of the most exciting, rewarding and difficult endeavors of my adult journey. I applied and was accepted into graduate school at Thunderbird School of Global Management.

I hadn’t intended to get my master’s degree. With 12 hours in graduate level human resources and after an international assignment (when distance-learning was not as prevalent), my mother’s terminal illness and the meeting of my future husband, finishing this degree was no longer relevant and was not a priority.

After 4 transformative years working on creating a physician-focused MBA within Gallup, learning from some of the smartest health care leaders and academicians in the country, it was clear to me that if I could find a program that contained the elements of transformation that our physicians had experienced, that maybe getting my master’s degree at this stage in the “game” would be an experience and a value to my career. The elements included: self-leadership focus, management, practical application and international immersion into business in another region of the world. Finally, the program must be “virtual” or distance-based with significant components on-line.

Few programs fit this list outside of the program we had created for doctors. Thunderbird fit most of it, with a heavy focus on international business and immersion with learning about global issues.

From my first of 4 didactic weeks, I have become a passionate advocate to others of this mind-changing masters in global business. My cohort met together to launch the program for 1 week in Glendale, during which we received a hard-earned 3 credit hours. We left with our books for the next 7 months since we would now be meeting with each other and faculty via gmail, skype, phone, video and many forms of instant messaging. This redefines the way in which people relate, build relationships and with limited time and complex demands, find effective ways to do group work, learn and ultimately get good grades.

As I reflect on the past 7 months with this trimester set to finish at the end of April, I remain a passionate advocate. Additionally, I am lead to wonder about how to raise the bar for this on-demand or virtual program, and how I might facilitate dialogue regarding.

A few ideas are being shared, virtually, amongst our cohort and with faculty. These have triggered other ideas including the potential that current on-demand students, who are mostly employed in full-time positions in management and leadership, could consist of a more formal approach to mentoring full-time students or new graduates without business experience. We are all taking stock of our careers up to now, and this immersion is likely a key catalyst paired with our common goal to change the quality of the world in which we live for the better. This vulnerability could be mutually beneficial to those that have stepped from undergrad right into grad school or those with less experience in the working world.

Additionally, there must be a way to ensure that faculty in virtual programs have what it takes to create, manage and engage students virtually. This is very hard job because we are social animals. The students get social fuel from each other and assignments, but the faculty are mostly uni-directional in their roles in educating. Not only is that difficult for them but is apparent in the disconnects that result, for the student learners and the barriers that come from interactions based on discussion board posts, solely.

Finally, I wonder if by creating a bi-directional approach for virtual courses, maybe where webinars include a virtual live classroom, the ability to ensure practical learning and practical application could be better achieved. This vs. the conceptual models and information upon which our great universities were built.

In June I head to Prague with a small group from my cohort and other cohorts for 3 credit hours and an immersion into European business. In September, we head to Sao Paulo to learn about business in South America. We have the choice to go to Asia as well as South Africa and eventually Africa. As my ODXI com-padre noted last night, maybe we should go to all continents to ensure we are truly prepared to be global managers when we earn our degree?